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Australia: ‘Long Covid may be no different from other post-viral syndromes’

The Guardian:
Time to stop using term ‘long Covid’ as symptoms no worse than those after flu, Queensland’s chief health officer says

Researchers compared the symptoms and impairment of Covid and influenza patients a year after they tested positive.

By Natasha May, The Guardian, 15 March 2024

Extracts

Long Covid may be no different from other post-viral syndromes such as those experienced after flu, according to new research from Queensland Health.

The lead author of the study, the state’s chief health officer Dr John Gerrard, said it was “time to stop using terms like ‘long Covid” because they imply there is something unique about the longer-term symptoms associated with the virus, and in some cases create hypervigilance…

The results of the study, which Gerrard will present next month at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases in Barcelona, found no evidence that those who had Covid-19 were more likely to have functional limitations a year on compared with those who did not have Covid-19 (3.0% v 4.1%).

The 3% of the study participants who had ongoing impairments after Covid-19 infection was similar to the 3.4% with ongoing impairments after influenza.

The study also looked at specific symptoms in the patients who had moderate to severe impairment, and found in both patients who were Covid positive and negative, the same percentage (94%) reported one or more of the commonly reported symptoms of long Covid: fatigue, post exertional symptom exacerbation, brain fog and changes to taste and smell.

The researchers acknowledged the findings are associations and do not represent prevalence, and acknowledged limitations in that participants who attended hospital or had pre-existing illness were not identifiable. They also said because 90% of people in Queensland were vaccinated when Omicron emerged, the lower severity of long Covid could be due to vaccination and the variant.

Prof Philip Britton, a paediatric infectious diseases physician from the University of Sydney and a member of the Long Covid Australia Collaboration, welcomed the study given the lack of published research from Australia in this area. However, Britton said the conclusion that it was time to stop using terms such as long Covid was “overstated and potentially unhelpful. Long Covid has been a global phenomenon, recognised by WHO.”

Prof Jeremy Nicholson, the director of the Australian National Phenome Centre at Murdoch University, said the question of whether long Covid is unique “cannot be simply answered in this work”. “The study is observational, based on reported symptoms with no physiological or detailed functional follow-up data. Without laboratory pathophysiological assessment of individual patients, it is impossible to say that this is indistinguishable from flu-related or any other post-viral syndrome,” Nicholson said…

ME Association comment

The media narrative, on Long Covid Awareness Day, was sadly dominated by coverage of some new and very controversial Australian research into Long Covid. The Guardian was reporting that Long Covid symptoms are ‘no worse than those after flu'. The manner in which the results were being interpreted will sadly add further support to the way in which a significant number of health professionals, health service providers, and research funders are wanting to downgrade Long Covid as a clinical entity. The Guardian has since amended its headline, but out of context the comments from Dr Gerrard are still causing concern.

Dr Charles Shepherd,
Trustee and
Hon. Medical Adviser
to the ME Association.

Dr Charles Shepherd

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